Lunching with Lunatics:Adventures of a Renegade Psychologist.
-Following in the tradition of R.D. Laing and Thomas Szasz, Seth Farber wrote prolifically in the 1990s deconstructing the myth of mental illness. This remarkable memoir reveals that Dr Farber carried over his philosophical convictions into his private life, bridging the divide between sanity and madness...
Lunching With Lunatics is an opportunity to join Farber in his hysterical romp through the funny-farms of life, his Ferlinghettiesque exploration of the Coney Island of the mind, his mystical journey in the Himalayas of the human spirit. Farber undermines scientific positivism, challenging readers to accept a new mode of rationality guided by the promptings of the enheartened imagination.--
Raymond Chester Russ, Ph.D., Editor,The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Department of Psychology, University of Maine
--Seth Farber is a remarkable psychologist who
completely rejects the idea of mental illness...He celebrates madness and
holds the view that it is often a precious
gift from the gods...I heartily
recommend this highly unusual book.
Irit Shimrat,Call Me Crazy, founder of the Lunatics
As far as I was concerned the high point of the conference was the R.D.Laing event. It was only one year after I had completed my Ph.D. in psychology; I had flown from New York to Phoenix, Arizona in December, 1985 to attend this conference that featured lectures and presentations from twenty-five of the most well known innovative psychotherapists in the country--later it was dubbed by one journalist “the Woodstock of Psychotherapy,” and by another “ the Lourdes of Arizona.” There were over seven thousand attendees. The R.D. Laing presentation had been anticipated by many people from the start of the conference.
“R. D. Laing is going to have a talk with a real schizophrenic!” people were whispering to each other in hushed voices. Almost everybody I talked to at the convention seemed thrilled at the opportunity they would have to witness this event. Everybody knew of course that Dr Laing was the psychiatrist who had written that schizophrenics were wiser and more perceptive than psychiatrists. These kind of statements had become his trademark after the publication of what was to endure as his most controversial book, The Politics of Experience, catapulted him to fame in the 1960s. Some people said that Laing was actually a recovered schizophrenic himself. (There was no substance to this allegation or to the other rumors that circulated occasionally that he had finally been locked up in a lunatic asylum.) Almost everybody knew he had a “drinking problem,” since he often appeared at his lectures obviously drunk. (Even on those occasions, I thought he made sense. Of course some people thought he never made sense.)
Several thousand therapists congregated in an auditorium with our eyes fixed on a large video-screen where within minutes we would witness Laing interviewing a diagnosed “treatment-resistant schizophrenic.”(1) The client’s name was “Christy” and she has been told of course that she and Dr Laing were going to be observed. The video screen lit up--Laing appeared before our eyes with an attractive, somewhat worn looking young woman. Christy opened by discussing some of her occult religious views, including her belief in “Universal Mind.” Laing then asked her what had brought her to Phoenix.
She answered, “I was trying to escape the conspiracy, and it didn’t work.”
“Well, if there is one I suppose you’re a conspirator so you know already. If there isn’t, I guess I just imagined it.”
“Is it a conspiracy for good or for evil?”
“Well...oh heck if I know...”
“If you came to Phoenix to get away from the conspiracy, you haven’t done very well,” Laing said with a chuckle.
“You mean the conference is a conspiracy?”
“Ya, of course.”
“What kind of conspiracy?”
“I think it’s quite a benign conspiracy...I think the Universal Mind has been asleep a bit, as far as this planet goes...And it’s sort of waking up a bit, sort of to do something about it.”
“It is capable of doing anything...I think it’s awfully mean that human beings are at the consciousness we’re at. We’re just half-way some place. We’re intelligent, but we’re not intelligent enough. At least, I haven’t figured anything out, have you? You’re older.”
“You don’t get any wiser when you get older...What about your Mom and Dad and that sort of thing?”
They continued to have a lively discussion for another twenty minutes, discussing her life, religion and the state of the world.
Are you a Christian?” she asked him at one point.
“Well I’m not sure what I should say about that. I’m a Christian in the sense that Jesus Christ wasn’t crucified between two candlesticks in a cathedral. He was crucified in the town garbage heap between two thieves. In that sense, I’m a Christian.. Why, are you a Christian?.”
“I don’t think so. I think God doesn’t know what he’s doing...”she responded..
When Laing said he had to return to the podium to answer questions, she asked if she could join
him. Laing appeared pleasantly surprised. They both left the room and took seats up on the dais to annswer questions. Most of the questioners from the audience were sympathetic but some were hostile.
The first questioner asked Laing what he thought accounted for the fact that he and Christy had such a good rapport with each other. Laing answered that he thought they shared a sense of communion that went beyond words, and was difficult to explain or talk about. But he added, “It makes all the difference if there is a sense of communion which is unspoken. It doesn’t have to be said. It shouldn’t actually be spoken about any more than it sometimes needs to be....If that is there, it makes all the difference. If that is absent...it will come to nothing...whether it’s behavioral therapy, psychoanalytic therapy or whatnot etc. etc....It doesn’t get anywhere with those people who find it difficult to live in the world...and can see how stupid it all is, how ugly it all is, how inexpressibly confused it all is, and yet are just regarded as crazy and mad for realizing that, and are either locked up or run away.”
This was vintage Laing. “Schizophrenics,” he was saying, are typically more authentic than normal people who want them to act normal and conform to social conventions, whereas what schizophrenics really wish for is something more fundamental: genuine communication, communion. They are rebelling against a world in which conformity to conventions has become an end in itself. There can be talk, conversation without communion; in fact this is typical in “normal” society--this was one of the main themes of Laing’s later work.
Laing’s writings had aroused the hostility of many mental health professionals who believed at the time--and still do-- that schizophrenics, by virtue of their affliction, are not capable of forming relationships; supposedly they shun communication. In fact this was a dogma that was (and is) upheld with quasi- religious fervor by the mental health professions. Now here Laing was today challenging this dogma again, and to make it worse implying again that it was normal people, not the “mentally ill,” who had difficulty really communicating. The fact that Laing had become fast friends with Christy seemed to prove that Laing’s heresy was correct--and thus there was a sense of excitement that one could feel among this audience of therapists. This particular conference was geared toward innovators in therapy so most of the audience was inspired by the feat he had performed. But there were members of the Old Guard present and they were angry.
A psychiatrist stood up to say that Laing was “breaking down the whole therapeutic process.”
Laing was annoyed, “This young lady sitting beside me is supposed to be an absolute paranoid schizophrenic on medication. [The agreement Laing had made was that the interviewee be medication-free for at least one week.] She’s sitting here just now perfectly compos mentus, perfectly clear, facing this most intimidating situation from this stage, not exhibiting any symptoms of schizophrenic disorder. If you knew of any medication that could do that in twenty minutes...would you say you wouldn’t give that to a patient?...So you don’t know anything about this sort of process. Have the humility to admit that and keep your place.” Who could honestly deny that he had a point? After all not only was Christy a schizophrenic but she was a “paranoid schizophrenic.” In fact she had even proved that to us by talking about a conspiracy, as paranoids usually do. But now she was acting very un-paranoid. She had not only let her guard down with Laing, but she chose to sit with him in front of an audience of a few thousand professionals and answer their questions! According to psychiatry, paranoid schizophrenics were not supposed to be able to do this---in fact if they were not taking “their medication” they were supposed to barely be able to function. Obviously her trust in Laing had something to do with her placing herself in a situation that most “normal” people would avoid. And she did not appear to be intimidated at all! This was not explicable by orthodox psychiatry.
Dr Salvador Minuchin, the renowned family therapist (I was training in family therapy with him that winter in New York) got up to defend Laing and Christy. He (ever the strict teacher) scolded the audience for not realizing that they had just experienced a “communion of love,” a bond of mutual understanding and affinity that Christy and “Ronald” (he did not call him by his last name as people at conferences usually did) were able to create with each other-- beyond the words they exchanged. “What I was observing, and I felt in trance, I felt in love with this young person.” He said that psychiatrists’ fixation on medication was shown to be irrelevant because “the drug that existed there is very, very powerful.”
Both Laing and Minuchin, as “experts” with years of experience in the field, knew that the feeling of trust established between Laing and Christy had empowered her, given her confidence and brought out the natural charm that several persons from the audience stood up to comment on---something that “anti-psychotic” drugs do not do. In fact as they typically make persons withdrawn and sluggish, Christy probably would not have been inclined to go before the audience at all had she been medicated when she met Laing. Those of us in the audience--including Minuchin--who did not have our psychiatric blinders on did not perceive a “schizophrenic patient” that afternoon, but a thoughtful, sensitive young woman. Laing was illustrating that schizophrenia was a social construction.
Laing believed that human beings suffer from a lack of communion in modern society--we view each other all too frequently as competitors, or strangers or enemies, as Others, rather than fellow human beings. Psychiatry contributes to this lack of communion by not accepting the mad person as who she is, but by defining her as “mentally ill” and then attempting to destroy (by drugs and indoctrination) what makes her different and unique--thus making her feel more estranged and isolated. But at the same time psychiatrists pretend they are only trying to help the poor “irrational patient” by confining her, subduing her with drugs or treating her with electroshock and attempting to get her to talk like a “normal” person, i.e,. like the psychiatrist talks when he is not on duty. The psychiatrist refuses to accept the person on her own terms. Psychiatric practice is one example of a general social phenomenon--the fear and non-acceptance of “the Other”, i.e., the person who is different, who does not talk our language or adopt our customs.
The question ultimately raised by Laing’s work was not whether the psychiatrist could help the "psychotic" but whether the psychotic could help the psychiatrist! And whether the lunatic could help society itself! In other words by stigmatizing, exiling or “curing” psychotics, we are alienating ourselves from those very individuals who hold--unknowingly--the solution to our problems as individuals and as a society. Laing did not write a lot on this topic--but enough to enrage his colleagues. The schizophrenic, he wrote, has ventured into the inner world traditionally explored by visionaries and mystics. Normal people, and particularly psychiatrists, are often not even aware this world exists. Thus, “schizophrenics have more to teach psychiatrists about the inner world than psychiatrists their patients,” he wrote in The Politics of Experience. Of course this infuriated psychiatrists since it inverted the hierarchical relationship upon which their careers depended: If this was true why should psychiatrists not hire schizophrenics and pay them for their services? Laing did not actually go this far but it was an obvious implication..
In Laing’s most daring statement he suggested that (at least some) schizophrenics might be experiencing the kind of higher consciousness, characteristic historically of mystics and saints, that could eventually spread and thus be instrumental to saving humanity from its present predicament of living in a world perilously threatened by external conflicts (conventional and nuclear wars) and internal strife and mindless materialism: “If the human race survives, future men will look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable Age of Darkness. They will presumably be able to savor the irony of this situation with more amusement than we can extract from it. The laugh’s on us. They will see that what we call ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break in the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.”
It was not until after Laing’s premature death of heart failure in 1989 ( he was only 61) that I began to understand the real significance of his work. As I wrote in an unpublished essay a few years after his death: “Laing’s most important contribution in his life and work was precisely this: As a man of Reason he resumed the dialogue with Unreason (mad people)-- he breached the abyss that separated the sane from the mad, and he thus took an unprecedented step that points the way to the next stage of our evolution as a culture.”......
FROM LILY STORY
I would visit Susanna once or twice a week and sometimes take her out for a meal. I had noticed Lily the first time I visited Susanna in the half-way house for the "mentally ill" (a term and construct I did not accept of course) because she was strikingly pretty. By the second or third visit Lily approached me and introduced herself. When I would visit Susie I would look for Lily --simply because I found her so appealing to look at. We sometimes exchanged a few words of "small talk." After about three weeks Lily came over to me where I was sitting chatting with Susanna, and asked if she could have a few words with me at my convenience.
Susie motioned for us to talk , and Lily said "Susanna tells me you have a philosophical contrarian consideration of the psychiatric system."
"Yes, you could put it that way. Frankly I regard the treatment of so-called mental patients as an abominable system of oppression and discrimination laced with paternalism and masked as medical treatment." After I said that I wondered to myself if she had any idea what I was talking about. I took out one of the leaflets I always carried which described the organization I had founded and our alternative perspective. I handed it to Lily who glanced quickly at it and put it away.
I knew I could get in trouble with the staff there-- giving out contraband literature in an institution run by mental health professionals, but I was used to taking that risk. Many times in the past when visiting a friend or client in a psychiatric ward, I would pull one of my leaflets out of my book bag and quietly give it to another patient--invariably one who looked like he or she was ready to learn about an alternative perspective. I had been rebuked by the staff once or twice but usually no professional even bothered to read my literature. I always felt like a modern day Abolitionist passing out subversive propaganda to the slaves.
"Susanna said that you helped her a lot. You have a psychotherapy practice, don't you?" I noticed that she had a British sounding accent, and her words had a slight slur, kind of sexy.
"Of sorts," I answered.
"I would like to go into psychotherapy with you,"she said with assurance. I don't know why but I was taken completely by surprise--perhaps because my interactions with her before were mildly flirtatious, at least on my part.
I responded spontaneously, "I don't want to get into that kind of role with you, Lily ."
Without a beat she responded, "What kind of role do you want to get into with me?"
This time I was even more surprised. I paused, bewildered and speechless for a few moments. Then I answered honestly, "I don't know. I didn't have--I don't have an agenda."
"I just thought I'd ask. If you figure it out, please let me know." At that point she smiled, politely excused herself, and departed.
From that moment on all that I could think about was Lily . As I replayed our exchange over and over again in my mind, I became increasingly infatuated with her. I had dismissed the idea of asking her out socially before because it seemed complicated considering her living situation--and besides I thought she was just a "pretty girl." But her boldness and curiosity about my ideas led me to the conclusion that she was far more interesting than I had thought. And now she had made it easy for me to ask her out. In fact if I didn't follow up, she would probably think that I was either a coward or totally disinterested.
I called Lily up a few hours later and we agreed to spend the following afternoon in the park. First we took the scruffy little poodle that followed her around out for a walk. She told me that the dog's name was "Princess" but I noticed over time that she often called the dog "Fluff." She had acquired Princess about seven years ago. The dog whose tail was constantly wagging never seemed to leave Lily alone for more than a minute. She did not require a leash as she never strayed more than a few feet from Lily , stopped and waited when we reached a curb and generally seemed to understand and follow all of Lily 's instructions--the cute intelligent little critter seemed to me to add to Lily 's charm. We returned the dog and continued our walk through Riverside Park. Lily was unreserved and told me a lot about herself and her life history. She told me that she grew up in the Bronx and graduated from parochial school. She then opened up a beauty salon which she ran for many years, until she had some sort of a crisis and was hospitalized for reasons she did not want to discuss. Her real mother died in a fire in 1968 in the mid-east where Lily was born. Lily was born prematurely in the middle of a desert when her mother's covered wagon was knocked over by a gust of wind before she reached her destination in Jerusalem. Where does she get this fantastic imagery ?, I wondered. Now I knew how she got in trouble with the psychiatric system: The "mental health professionals" would not have been impressed, as I was, with her imagination. They would have merely marked her "schizophrenic" and thrown her into the System.
"How did you get to the United States?" I asked.
"My mother placed me on a cargo ship which docked in the Bronx. Then I was adopted. But it's quite a violent neighborhood where I grew up, lots of gangs. In fact, I was shot in the head several times. There are a couple of bullets that are still in my brain--the doctors couldn't get them out. That's why I have slight brain damage today, and also being born prematurely of course." ( I discovered later that she was raised in a middle-class area with little incidence of crime.)
"What do you mean by brain damage?" I asked.
" Well you know I often have trouble remembering things."
We switched topics. "You know, Zeth [she always mispronounced my name] there is a crime syndicate that has been interfering in my life for a long time now. They control the whole city. I can barely take a move without them trying to control me. They want me to be like a marionette or something."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," I responded. " Lily , did you ever read Ken Kesey's book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ? He talks about that in there, he calls it 'the Combine.' The authorities in the Combine want to exercise absolute control--that's the only way they feel secure. Being part of a mechanical system and having some people who you can control."
"Oh yeah, I had lunch with him a few years ago."
" Who?" I asked, momentarily disoriented.
"Ken Kesey, he wanted me to be in his movie. But I said 'No way, man. You think I'm crazy?' " She said the last sentence emphatically and then laughed quietly, as if she was happily amused by the absurdity of it all. She continued "I already have the crime syndicate following me. If I do your movie I'll have all the Keystone cops after me also! That's just what I need! " We both laughed simultaneously. I glanced at her as she moved her head to toss her long dark hair out of her face. She really is a delightful creature, I thought.
"Let Jack Nicolson fly over the cuckoo's nest with someone else. Because if I get involved in that it really will drive me cuckoo," she added.
We were walking along the Hudson River in Riverside Park. The sun was shining brightly, the water was glimmering alluringly, the contours of the George Washington bridge in the distance reminded me of distant places I had once traveled to, other bridges I had crossed once. Nostalgically I remembered San Francisco where I lived for several years until six years ago. I looked at Lily and she smiled at me. I smiled back. I was happy--for the first time in years. I thought to myself, "This is too good to last."
Suddenly on January 3 it was announced that the half-way house had to close down in three weeks for lack of funds. ... Lily asked me to investigate cheap hotels that she could possibly stay in. One afternoon after spending a couple of hours on the phone making enquiries I telephoned her to tell her the results of my search. I dialed the phone in Lily 's half-way house; she answered. "Hello, Lily ," I said. Before I could say anything else, she hung up. I called back, "Why did you hang up on me? I have inform--"
"I spoke to you yesterday. Don't ever call me two days in a row. I have to go," she said and hung up again. Now I was furious.
I called back, "I just spent two hours--"
"I have to go."
"You're wrong, Lily . You owe me an apology," and then I hung up. I was a bit worried that there would be consequences to my hanging up on her. She had evidently still not recovered from my walking out on her one year ago.... Once again I hoped--futilely--to rescue myself through the printed word. I put a notebook in my lap, and the words came to my mind effortlessly--just as they had a year ago when I first wrote her:
Dear Lily ,
The other day when I said I loved you, you told me I was mistaken. Let me tell you the reason I love you. It's because everything about you is alluring and mysterious and magical. It's because your very existence is so very improbable, like something I dreamed about long ago. As if God Him/Herself dreamed you into existence. Or did I do it unknowingly one night long ago, only to discover that you years later, not realizing you were the creation of my own ingenious imagination?! Or was it you who dreamed me into existence (yourself yet unborn or in some other form), just so that I could meet you and marvel at your being. And you could marvel at me marveling at you. And perhaps you thought gleefully all along that I would never guess that I was the creation of your imagination!
Or, strange and wondrous creature that you are, perhaps you traveled here from some other planet, some other star, some other solar system for the purpose of meeting me! Perhaps you sensed that I needed you, perhaps you heard the silent call of my heart...
You see why I love you? And also because words flow from your lips and dance madly but gracefully and rhythmically in the air as if you had skillfully choreographed it all in advance. You tell me you rarely read books. Yet words never seem to fail you. You always seem to make your point in the most quaint and charming manner, turning the inside out, so that it becomes extraordinary.
Can you understand me? The thought of losing you is too painful to endure.
Will you not confess that you love me too, so that this infernal loneliness will come to an end, so that the silent cry of my heart will finally cease and I will know joy and benediction, as I knew one year ago for those two weeks when I loved you, and when you loved me? Love, Seth
I waited until I felt sure she had received the letter and then telephoned.
She answered. "Don't send me any more letters like that," she said coldly and then hung up. I called her back.and she hung up again. Things were beginning to seem very bleak to me. ....
I took the train to the hospital--it took me about an hour and a half to get there. The social worker, Valerie from England, had agreed to meet with me after getting Lily's approval. She seemed to be an unusual social worker: She did not treat Lily as a pathetic mental case but actually seemed to appreciate her intelligence and imagination.
"But Dr Farber," she said to me, "Certainly we could not very well give custody to Lily. Do you know who the father is?"
"Well, I was out of touch with Lily for well over a year."
She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, "Are you the father?"
" What? Am I the father?! Are you nuts?" I was stunned.
"I only ask because Lily said you gave her an engagement ring.."
"Oh!" I wasn't sure how to respond. I decided to tell her the truth without going into details, as I'm usually inclined to do. Fortunately she was not--or so it seemed-- the typical social worker. I looked around, and was reminded that I was in a psychiatric ward. I decided not to tell her that Lily and I had never '"consummated" our friendship--that would be too explicit.
"Well several years ago Lily and I dated for a couple weeks. And I was infatuated with her. But it just developed into a friendship. And as I said I have not seen Lily for well over a year. So I was not in touch with her when she became pregnant. But I believe she was pretty transient at that point so I would assume it was just a one night stand kind of thing."
She showed me the form that had been filled out by a social worker in the hospital after Lily had given birth: "The patient is a severely mentally ill 33 year old white female who had no idea she was pregnant and thus received no pre-natal care. She called for an ambulance stating that she had an appendicitis. She did not know who the father of the baby was. She remains highly disoriented. The patient suffers from delusions and ideas of reference. In-patient treatment is indicated." The baby was immediately placed in the custody of the Child Welfare Administration. Valerie told me that every time she asked Lily if she knew who the father was, Lily replied, "Baryshnikov."
I laughed. "Lily is very bright, very cultured," I said.
"Yes, Lily is, and she is very pretty. I see why you find her so appealing. But she's not exactly playing with a full deck, is she?"
I smiled. I was relieved she had not used the typical psychiatric jargon.
I responded finally, "Yes but she has more jokers than most of the other players."
"Yes, she certainly does." .....
Getting her out was not easy. The psychiatrists kept claiming that they were going to keep her long enough so that they could cure her of "schizophrenia" and then she would be able to have custody of her child.... I enlisted Monty's help to pressure them to release Lily. In the meantime I went to visit her a couple of times a week. She always seemed happy to see me now and was often effusive. There was one psychiatrist there that she said she could tolerate. "What's he like?,"I asked.
"Entemann's cake," she answered.
"What do you mean?"
"Meaning sometimes he's fresh and tasty like with coffee in the morning but other times he's stale and hard and he has to have his own way."
Another time we were watching the birds fly by outside the window of the lounge. She pointed to a black bird, "That's a crow...I gave him some bread crumbs yesterday."
"Did he eat them?"
"No, he said 'There's lots and lots of worms to eat in the ground that's soaking wet. We appreciate your patronage of bread that's moist and well kept. And we will come to retrieve it when our thirst is quenched and wet.'"
"The crow said that to you?"
Then she laughed heartily as if she had been teasing me all along, "Of course not. Who do you think I am, Doctor Doolittle, a professor lost in time who knows how to talk to a bird with a rhythm and a rhyme?" She noticed that I had written down a note, and she leaned over, took my pen and crossed out where I had written "Dr Doolittle" and wrote over it "Doctor Dew Little Professor lost in Time."
Another time she said to me, "Zeth pretend I am a professor of metaphysics."
"OK. What is being?"
"Being is the composure of one's own state of analogy."
"What is nothingness?"
"Nothingness is overseeing all questions with a question." Later I read those definitions to a friend of mine who was completing his doctorate in sociology. I asked him if he could guess whose they were. He guessed Derrida, a very cryptic contemporary French philosopher...
(A year later) I talked to Lily once a month for about six months until I found the time to make the trip up there to visit her. I had very little free time since I was spending virtually all of it working on a new book.
I rang the door of Lily's home. Fortunately her mother was not there. Lily suggested we sit on the patio in the back yard.
"What have you been doing, Zeth?'
"Not too much. It's been pretty dull. I did some radio and TV promoting my latest book but it certainly isn't going to start a revolution as I had dreamed. Dee isn't living with me anymore. We're just friends, now. Still friends though"
"Yes, like you and me, friends now."
"Yes." I laughed; it seemed to be an implicit acknowledgment on her part that once we had something more than a friendship. How are you?" I asked.
"There's a lot I want to tell you. You know people say that this person doesn't do anything--like maybe she doesn't sew. This could be the person's embarrassment because the person is not a source to be historic with an objective."
I assumed she was talking about herself in a round-about but eloquent manner "You must get bored living up here isolated in the Bronx, don't you?"
"Oh yeah, there are all kinds of obscured rioted forms of obscenity."
" That's a good way to put it. I'll have to remember that phrase...I'm writing a new book. I keep trying to change the world. I don't seem to give up."
"Yes but contradictionism is no way for anyone in the world to conduct your destiny."
" It certainly gets discouraging. But I can't very well march in the band with everyone else when I see where it is leading--to all kinds of doomsday scenarios produced by the military industrial complex and other evil forces. So I really have no choice but to march to the tune of a different drummer. I have to do something to try to reverse the trend. I'm a Christian in that sense. I still believe that God has been beckoning us to return to paradise. But this time I'm going to make my book different, like changing a dream."
"Yeah but the world is made up of concrete facts, of conceptualizations. You have to deal with logical realities."
I laughed at the irony--Lily telling me this! "Yes, it is concrete alright, it's real but I don't know if it really does any good to approach it that way--as a concrete reality. Take the pyramids for example. Those were concrete realities, thousands of feet high. But think of how many thousands of people, how many generations over thousands of years worked, spent their whole lives as slaves, building, like worker ants, building those pyramids. What a waste of human lives. For what? For these concrete structures."
" But exploitation can be creative."
"But we're stuck in this granite materialist nightmare. And you try to change people's ideas, and it's the same kind of thing. All they believe in is this concrete. Our whole civilization is a tomb, a whitened sepulcher, as Jesus said."
"But you can exploit an idea, like cotton white socks. You can initiate new vitamins to strengthen the body."
"Well that's more like a garden. We should all work together in the garden. That's how the earth should be again--the Garden of Eden.. You know that's why I'm thinking now maybe I should use a lighter approach. So instead of going up against this granite, these pyramids, I can just try to insinuate a new dream into mass consciousness. And of course you know what my most radical idea is--that we don't have to die. If we just repent, we can create the Kingdom of Heaven on earth."
"If, if, if ,if ,if..." There was a pause. "Look at my face Zeth . I have all these wrinkles now."
"You look pretty much the same. You look well." I had missed her point: Wrinkles belied my dream of eternal life.
"You were on TV the other day, Zeth."
"Yeah you know that's why I grew the beard. I was hoping it would make me look more like a philosopher."
"It does. You look like Aristocracies."
"You mean Aristotle?"
"No, not him."
"Do you mean Socrates?"
"No not him."
"I don't think there is a philosopher named Aristocracies."
"It's pronounced, Arrow--stocraties. Arrow."
"There was a Greek playwright called Aristophanes."
"What did he write?"
"Lyssistrata, I think."
"Let me get you some figs to take home," she said." There were several fig trees in her parents' garden in the small backyard of their house. She picked the figs and put them in a plastic bag for me to take back home.
"Thanks," I said....
The Carla Story
.....I knew there was a way out, I would help to lead others out. The very fact that this miracle existed at all meant that the source of life was good. The state of being in love and having that love reciprocated evokes the memory of Paradise; the memory is latent in the human psyche. Carla was infinitely precious to me and the fact that she allowed me to love her so and to love me in return astonished me. After years of exile I had finally come home. I'd done nothing to merit such a gift. I felt humbled before the infinitude of God's grace which was manifesting itself through the medium of human love. It was the kernel of truth in Augustine's assertion that grace was "unmerited," not because I had sinned though certainly I had, and not because I or any other human being deserved to be eternally tormented. But whether I had sinned or not, what was relevant was the fact that there was nothing that I possibly could do to merit that which was infinite and boundless, that which had no limit. I sensed the infinitude of this love which could not possibly be contained or measured, which exceeded me in every way. And furthermore, it was given to me as a gift, not as a reward. It was a gratuitous act--of giving-- that constituted or expressed the nature of that force of being that we call God, and that is somehow the secret of the nature of the mystery of human existence.
Before the vision of infinite worth, one can only bow one’s head in reverence. Goethe said, “The greatest wisdom is to fathom what can be fathomed and to bow in reverence before the unfathomable.” Aware, finally of the bounty of love, I also became aware of the presence of death all around me. I must be careful, I thought. Every gesture, every movement now, must be one of worship. I had returned to the state of paradise but what if I failed again? I was keenly aware of my vulnerability. If I took a step in the wrong direction I could plummet again off the precipice into the abyss of loneliness, agony and despair. I was no longer in a state of oblivion, I was poised in paradise on the edge of death. It was frightening. I thought to myself “Anything new is frightening.” If one loves fully one opens oneself up to the possibility of failing again. I was thinking now of the species: of breaking the habit of death, the habits that lead to death.
There had to be path-breakers, pioneers, willing to abide in this state, willing to love fully while remaining aware of the presence of death – otherwise things would continue in the same miserable fashion. It certainly seems safer to stay outside the kingdom of love and to pretend that death did not exist, safer to see refuge in the oblivion of consciousness that had become the habitual mental poise of the overwhelming majority of our species.
It was as if I was on a tightrope. I had become conscious of the human situation, of the promise of love, and of the power of death. One must do this without yielding to despair, and with the willingness to abide in a state that is blessed but frightening. This is to live with a sense of the precariousness of our situation.
It was morning and it was still raining. Carla asked me to walk her to the bus stop. I did not have money now because I was unemployed. And yet I felt a sense of freedom. I felt as if I was acting out an archetypal drama with Carla: “Young and in love and on our own.” I kept thinking of the stories my parents told me about how they struggled to survive financially after they were married when they were “young and in love.” For a brief moment in time the veil of death is torn open and one finds oneself in a universe where love is sovereign and life is perceived as a gift, greater than one could ever have imagined. And then the veil falls and one is enclosed again in the realm of ordinary life and one works, raises a family, pays the taxes and dies. And this is of course considered natural: this is life, this is “reality.”
Earlier that morning as we drank coffee, Carla had been telling me about World War II and how our parents’ generation went through two world wars and the phrase came into my mind, “Before he goes off to war” and I thought to myself how often young people in the past fell in love before the men went off to war to be slaughtered. Love is associated in the popular mind with death. “A happy ending” is considered to be “unrealistic” a “fairy tale.” Reality means death. Reality means the defeat of love. And death has always given love a sense of poignancy: “She waited at home hoping he would return, that he would escape Death’s snares. He had left her to do his manly duty.”
In the past love has bloomed in the shadow of death. Under these conditions the human heart first conceived the aspiration for eternal love – and then gave it up as a hopeless dream, decided to pretend that death did not exist. Thus is love’s insistent but gentle summons to a grander destiny ignored. It must live as an exile, as its own great estate is ransomed to Death by those who refusing to believe in love’s power to transform human existence hope to win a few years of oblivion before they are carted off to the hospital or the nursing home to die like dogs.
was now convinced that the myth of the Fall was the key to understanding the human situation. It is not necessary to assert that this event took place in historical time; Berdyaev writes for example, "Man's existence in the setting of this world is but a moment of the spiritual journey. But his destiny is sunk deep in eternity and cannot depend solely on this fallen time. The Fall of Man did not occur in this phenomenal world nor in this time. On the contrary the reverse in the case, for this phenomenal world and its time are a product of the Fall." At any rate it is no accident that one finds the archetype of the paradisaical state lodged in the individual psyche, and it is no accident as Eliade noted, "that the mythical remembrance of a non-historical happiness has haunted humanity from the moment man first became aware of his situation in the Cosmos."
It was no accident that the benediction of love that had just befallen me struck me as a homecoming and a return. Jjust one week ago I had found in a fortune cookie the message, "You will soon find again something long ago lost." Yes lost so long ago. Or is it that we remember Paradise because we are destined to return there--a memory of the future, as Ernst Bloch called it.. Henry Miller had written "All that matters is that the miraculous become the norm." My life had now become a succession of miracles, of one uncanny occurrence after another. The Kingdom of God, of which Christ spoke is the order of the miraculous, and if we abide there we are free from subjection to what we now consider to be laws of nature--but which are really only habits of nature. Christ had demonstrated the power of love: A miracle is evidence that the power of love can overcome the force of habit--even of Nature, of man's willing subjection to disease and death.....